Word Pictures: Engaging Your Audience Through Creative Content

Posted: April 13, 2015

“Picture this.” These two words should become your writing mantra. According to Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene, reading involves a rich back-and-forth between the language areas and visual areas of our brains. The full extent of that connectivity is not yet known, but it’s easy to imagine that the more sensory (i.e. interesting) information we can include in our writing, the more fully we can engage our audience.

Readers turn words into pictures in their minds. As writers, we have the power to paint what that picture looks like. Creative content marketing cannot be overlooked, especially in the realm of higher education. It is the answer to many of the issues that college and universities are facing today. Leveraging creative content allows you to further engage your audience and inspire them to take an action, complete a task, or even feel more connected with your institution.

As both a reader and a writer, I compiled a brief list of tips to help develop creative, compelling content that will hold the attention of your readers without sounding like…ahem…a broken record (this is an example of a cliché; the perfect segway into my first tip).

Avoid Chichés

Clichés, though sometimes funny or relevant, can drive your audience away since they tend to come off as too cheesy and more often, insincere. The purpose of creative content is to make a connection with your audience. Avoiding cliches can help bridge the gap between your institution and your audience.

Clichés are often idioms. Idioms are figurative phrases with an implied meaning, so the phrase is not meant to be taken literally. When developing content for your institution, question any comparison or image you are about to use.

  • Think about what the cliché actually means. Some key words  might come to mind as synonyms of the overall meaning. You can use one of these key words to replace the cliché altogether or look them up in a thesaurus to find other alternatives. If you find it difficult to come up with the basic meaning, try googling the cliché or looking it up in a dictionary. You can then use the words you found during your search or in the dictionary definition as a starting point for finding suitable synonyms in a thesaurus.
  • Decide whether you actually need the expression at all. Quite a lot of clichés are just ‘fillers’– i.e. words or groups of words used just to maintain the flow of speech, or to pad out a speech or piece of writing. If you identify a clichéd expression of this sort, you can just remove it altogether. Wordy, overused phrases might increase the length of a piece of writing but they won’t improve its general quality.
  • Rewrite your sentence. Clichés often sneak up on us when we try to be descriptive, especially when in a time crunch. Try to step back and ask yourself: Is the phrase you’re about to use one that you’ve heard frequently in casual conversation, newscasts, and advertising? If your answer is yes, then it’s most likely a cliché or on its way to becoming one.

Use Metaphors Instead

Did you know that most clichés used to be metaphors? We’ve overused them because metaphors are possibly the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for creating word pictures and, thus, engaging content.

By making unexpected comparisons, metaphors and similes allow words to perform like those sharks during Katy Perry’s Halftime Show. These comparisons shake our brains awake and force us to pay attention. Make you language dance like a ballerina in a little pink tutu. Give your audience something interesting to sink their teeth into, gnaw on, and share with their friends and family.

Leverage Superlatives Effectively

Superlatives are the MOST effective and BEST tool you can EVER use… That is until your reader gets burnt out or you lose their trust because superlatives can sometimes seem too flashy or fake. Superlatives, words such as “best,” “worst,” “most,” are one of the main problems with clickbaity blog headlines and over exaggerated descriptions. More often than not, these click-bait titles fail to deliver on their huge promises.

Be cautious with exaggerations in all of its forms. You don’t necessarily have to stop using it, but think of superlatives as the salt to your recipe: too much and your reader’s will be left with a sour taste, too little and your content comes off as bland.

“If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.”

– William Zinsser

So how do you stand out in a crowded field of over-used superlatives and hyperbolic claims? Find the areas where your institution excels and leverage those. At VisionPoint we don’t have the most followed or frequently published blog in the world. Instead, we strive to have a really high quality blog. I could have obfuscated there and said we have “the best” blog, but by being specific about what we’re actually awesome at, we end up attracting viewers who want better content instead of more content (and they’re happier for it).